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April 23rd 2011
Published: April 25th 2011
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Igoumenitsa to Meteora

Tuesday 19th April 2011

On the road to Meteora in central nortern Greece, A journey that should in theory be quite straight forward.
Over the mountains by modern motorway and down onto the Plain of Thessaly by normal roads.
However fate had a different view as with around 3/4 of the motorway section complete traffic in both directions was diverted onto a local mountain road. This was not of great quality with sections looking as though they might slip into the valley below down the steep hillside. Traffic included large articulated lorries which needed to pass in opposite directions - making driving very interesting to say the least. At one point a ravine was bridged by what appeared to be a narrow temporary bridge. Stationed there was an official supervising the crossing of a single vehicle at a time - I was glad to get over that one. Traffic was able to rejoin the motorway several miles on. However at this point we appeared to be on the road we needed to get to Meteora so we carried on. Without satnav ( my tomtom western europe maps do not include Greece ! ) we were navigating with a 1:800000 tourist map - clear detail lacking. This proved to be a mistake as we were on the wrong side of the Katara pass. The road climbed up and up towards the snowline - there looked to be significant snow at altitude. At one point the road surface dropped 8cm across its width and 30m later rose about the same ! It had just sunk ! When we reached a convenient point we stopped to regroup. Here I happened to look at a sign by the road which warned of the dangers of leaving your vehicle and meeting a wild Brown Bears ! Time to turn around and get back on the motorway which we found tunnels through the mountains at Metsovo. Fortunately the rest of the journey was uneventful and we arrived at the campsite, situated below the imposing Meteora rocks after stopping at a roadside stall to buy fresh vegetables, fruit and honey.

Wednesday 20th April 2011

A visit to the World Heritage Site / Monasteries of Meteora.

The Metéora "suspended rocks" or "in the heavens above" is one of the largest and most important complexes of Eastern Orthodox monasteries in Greece. They are built on natural sandstone rock pillars, at the northwestern edge of the Plain of Thessaly.

The largest the Great Meteoron Monastery on Broad Rock was built in the mid 1350's. Here the monks were safe from political upheaval and had complete control of the entry to the monastery.

At the end of the 14th century, the Byzantine Empire's 800-year reign over northern Greece was being increasingly threatened by Turkish raiders who wanted control over the fertile plain of Thessaly. The hermit monks, seeking a retreat from the expanding Turkish occupation, found the inaccessible rock pillars of Meteora to be an ideal refuge. More than 20 monasteries were built.

Access to the monasteries was originally (and deliberately) difficult, requiring either long ladders lashed together or large nets used to haul up both goods and people. In one case intrepid pilgrims were hoisted up vertically alongside the 373 metres cliff. This required quite a leap of faith – the ropes were replaced, so the story goes, only "when the Lord let them break".

Only six of the monasteries remain inhabited today. Of these six, five are inhabited by men, one by women. Each monastery has fewer than 10 inhabitants. All are listed as part of the World Heritage Site.

Thankfully the monasteries are accessible today by staircases cut into the rock formations, still quite a climb.

A drive of about 10km up into the hills surrounding the monasteries gave terrific views over the plain of Thessaly. We parked close to the Monastery of Varlaam which gave us walking access to both this and the Great Meteoron Monastery the two largest in the complex. Max elected to stay with the van and sit in the sunshine whist 'the boys' ascended to the heavens. I think the pictures speak for themselves.

Additional photos below
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25th April 2011

Looks very spectacular. I think I'm in one of those piccies on the top of a hill!

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